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Enjoy a soak at...Meigs Spa?

Gale Cool stands under a shelter at Meigs Farm, where the island developer hopes to build a health spa using design elements that link humans with the 20-acre property’s prairies and wetlands. - Douglas Crist/Staff Photo
Gale Cool stands under a shelter at Meigs Farm, where the island developer hopes to build a health spa using design elements that link humans with the 20-acre property’s prairies and wetlands.
— image credit: Douglas Crist/Staff Photo

Gale Cool hopes to build a spa and lodge at Meigs Farm.

Gale Cool’s new health spa and lodge on Meigs Farm is nearly complete, even though he hasn’t yet broken ground.

“The landscaping’s done,” Cool said from a sloped prairie overlooking wetlands and a large pond. “The infrastructure’s 90 percent done. I’ve got a well, roads and I don’t think I’ll need to take out even three trees.

“The spa’s fundamentally done.”

The Point White resident’s career as an urban developer has shifted over the years to a new role as an “undeveloper.” He’s turned prospective subdivisions into estuaries, farms into parks and waterfront property into salmon habitat.

His latest project would come with some new construction, but would ease into the landscape of a former 20-acre dairy farm along Meigs Park’s southeast edge.

“I favor a plan with ‘soft development,’ that integrates people into the land and doesn’t make hard distinctions between humans and the landscape,” he said.

In the early 1990s, Cool assembled a half-dozen parcels south of Koura Road and west of the highway, all once part of the island’s historic dairy farm.

Sixty-seven acres were sold to the park district and placed under a conservation easement held by the Bainbridge Island Land Trust, preserving a natural area that’s now known as Meigs Park.

Cool kept 20 acres for himself under private ownership, retaining the name Meigs Farm.

Cool now plans to convert the farm property into a rustic refuge with heated baths, a cafe and a lodge with up to 20 rooms. The baths might feature herbs and peat moss grown on-site, as well as artesian spring water drawn from a handful of wells.

“The model for this spa is a West Coast hot springs,” said Cool. “Right now, you have to drive hours and hours from Bainbridge Island or Seattle to get to a hot springs. This will be much closer, much easier to get to.”

Pilot project

The property contains wetlands protected under the city’s Critical Areas Ordinance.

Cool is requesting that the city follow a set of “pilot project” procedures that allow some exceptions to CAO guidelines as long as the changes increase overall environmental protections. The City Council will discuss Cool’s proposal at tonight’s meeting.

The CAO’s pilot project component, which was incorporated last year, encourages landowners to “undertake creative, non-standard efforts” that “provide greater protection of the functions and values of affected critical areas and their buffers.”

Cool intends to follow the property’s conservation easement guidelines, which restricts development to under 2 percent of the 20 acres.

With the building area capped at 15,000 square feet, the spa development will “demonstrate low impact, highly landscape-integrated development that can serve as a model alternative to conventional development patters,” according to proposals submitted by Cool’s architect, Bruce Anderson of Winslow’s Cutler Anderson Architects.

Cool hopes the council will consider his “out-of-the-box” proposals.

“The Critical Areas Ordinance has no provisions for integrating people into the landscape,” he said. “If we can’t live in proximity to nature, we are fundamentally missing the whole point of critical areas.”

Park district planner Perry Barrett doesn’t expect Meigs Park next door will be significantly impacted by the spa development, as long as water levels and peat bogs, which grow the rare ledum flower, are not altered.

“The rise and fall of the pond’s water and the ledum bog are the most important component in need of being protected,” Barrett said. “That’s our greatest concern.”

Cool said protecting these elements are also of paramount concern as he crafts proposals for the spa’s development.

While no designs have yet been drafted, Cool plans to heat spa water with solar panels and incorporate “passive solar” elements to heat and cool buildings.

Cool hopes to link a long dirt road on the property to a future “trans-island bikeway,” which could one day draw pedal-powered spa-goers from the ferry terminal. The path may feature a public-use bathroom for bikers, Cool said.

The property will also feature smooth “barefoot accessible” trails “If you want to walk around without your shoes on, I’ll make it so you can,” he said. “You’ll get a little muddy.”

Cool may also grow large swaths of camas, a staple food for many Northwest tribes, and implement plans aimed at reviving the area’s beaver population.

“This land has been hammered for the last 150 years,” he said. “We need to restore it.”

The property hosted one of the island’s first farms after a 35-acre lake was drained in the 1850s, according to Cool. Island settlers “blew the beaver dams, drained the lake and grew food for the logging camps at Port Madison,” he said.

The area was converted to a dairy farm in the early 1900s and, in the 1970s, was mined of gravel, sand and peat moss, which can be burned as fuel.

If his proposals gain favor with the city, Cool hopes to have the spa and lodge completed by the end of next year.

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Hope springs

The City Council will discuss pilot project procedures for Gale Cool’s proposed spa development at tonight’s council meeting, which convenes at 7 p.m. The council plans to discuss the property at 8:50 p.m.

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